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New owner expects 9-5 sedan to boost sales of Saab in U.S.

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New owner expects 9-5 sedan to boost sales of Saab in U.S.

Dan Strumpf / Associated Press

New York -- The new owner of Saab expects U.S. sales of the Swedish car brand to double in 2010, as the company benefits from greater stability and the introduction of the 9-5 sedan later this year.

Victor Muller, CEO of Dutch sports car maker Spyker Cars NV, said he plans to take the Swedish company back to its roots as a maker of quirky yet sporty luxury cars, a strategy he hopes will win back customers and continue boosting sales.

"We don't need any new customers. We only need our old customers back," said Muller said in an interview with the Associated Press. "Saab is OK and well-funded and will last as an independent car manufacturer."

Spyker bought the Swedish company headquartered in Trollhattan, Sweden, from General Motors for $74 million in cash plus $326 million worth of preferred shares in Saab. The deal was completed in February, saving Saab from being shut down after a previous attempt to sell the brand to another Swedish automaker fell through.

GM had been trying to sell the money-losing brand as part of its turnaround plan. Saab sold just 39,000 cars globally last year, down from 94,000 a year earlier.

In the United States, Saab sales fell to about 8,600 in 2009, down from a peak of 41,000 in 2001, Muller said. Sales should climb back to around 16,000 in the U.S. this year, he said.

In the longer term, Muller expects to sell between 30,000 and 35,000 Saabs per year in the U.S. The last time Americans bought that many Saabs was 2007.

Muller said he expects Saab to benefit from the stability of a new owner, as well as from greater access to customer and dealer financing. Earlier this year, Ally Financial Inc. agreed to be the main financier for Saab customers and dealers.

"(In 2009) there was no consumer financing, no dealer financing. Nothing was left," Muller said.

Muller also hopes to bring Saab back to its roots. Saab had attracted a small but devoted following in the U.S. and elsewhere, where enthusiasts like the brand's quirky design, sporty ride and technological sophistication. The company was a pioneer in using turbocharged engines. It was also the first carmaker to offer heated seats.

Many Saab fans complained that GM, during its 10-year ownership, diluted the Swedish brand by simply putting new Saabs on Opel and other GM platforms and stripping Saab vehicles of their uniqueness.

Although the 9-5, which goes on sale in the U.S. this summer, was designed by GM, Saab is working on new models that will be solely designed by Spyker and Saab designers. Last week, Saab announced it hired Jason Castriota, a former designer of Italian sports cars, as its new design director.

One highly anticipated model is the 92 minicar, an iconic Saab sports car that first went on sale in the 1950s. Muller hopes to have a redesigned 92 on sale by 2013 with hybrid and even all-electric capabilities, as long as he finds a technology-sharing partner to help bear the costs.

In the meantime, Muller has been working on the initial sketches for the new 92 himself. Although he declined to provide the sketch for publication, he showed an AP reporter a recent rendering on his cell phone. Like the old 92, the two-door car has a teardrop silhouette and front-facing suicide doors.

"If we manage to put that car on the road, it's going to be a blast," he said.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100729/AUTO03/7290357/1148/auto01/New-owner-expects-9-5-sedan-to-boost-sales-of-Saab-in-U.S.#ixzz0v4ymm1b3

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